NEW YORK: Noting that Burson-Marsteller's CEO is “not a normal 9-to-5 guy,” a senior official at the agency said that Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign coming to a close won't affect the company, because CEO Mark Penn never really left.
“He was still involved with the company. He was still CEO and he never stopped being CEO,” said the source. “I don't see [the end of the Clinton campaign] as a particular inflection point. It's a big inflection point for [Clinton], but it's not a big inflection point for the company.”
Penn toured nearly all of Burson's US offices, meeting with agency leadership and employees, after stepping down as Clinton's chief strategist April 6. Penn resigned as Clinton's chief adviser after it was revealed that he, representing Burson, met with Colombia government officials to work on a free trade issue at odds with Clinton's campaign stance. Penn apologized for the March 31 meeting, and the Colombian government terminated its contract with Burson. WPP Group officials announced shortly thereafter that Penn would continue to run Burson as worldwide CEO.
The senior Burson source commented that agency business is “best since the bubble burst in 2001,” adding that the agency had not suffered any lost accounts as a result of Penn's involvement with the campaign.
“I look at that as the only real indicator of how we're doing, and right now we're on fire,” he said.
A person familiar with the firm also believed that Penn, despite controversy had aided Burson's profile.
“[There] have been controversies with Mark Penn, but I think Penn has had a positive impact on Burson,” the source said. “Burson's profile has been raised immeasurably by having a CEO that was a top strategist for a leading presidential campaign… I would say overall there's a recognition that with a high profile role can come controversy.”
The Burson official said Penn's role as chief strategist for Clinton, once perceived by many political pundits as the “inevitable” Democratic nominee, did not devalue Penn's reputation in the PR industry.
“It's politics. There's no such thing as a sure thing, and anyone who knows anything about politics knows that. Look at [President] Bush after 9/11 when he was one of the most popular presidents in history and look at him now,” said the source. “This was an election unlike any other election.”